climate-column-warmer-wintersBy Tom Somrack, NFU Government Relations Intern

As previously noted on the Climate Column, rising temperatures resulting from climate change can have serious repercussions for both crop growers and livestock producers. In addition to the basic issues related to rising temperatures, warmer winters pose their own unique set of potential problems for producers. USDA’s Regional Vulnerability Assessments explain how a decrease in snow cover and frozen soil may affect a variety of ecosystem processes, including decomposition, nutrient cycling, and the onset of the growing season. Warmer winters can also fluctuate with more rainfall due to warmer temperatures, and threaten the viability of winter crops.

How do less snow cover and warmer temperatures during the winter months affect your farming operation? Depending on the location of your farm, warmer winters can have serious implications for your crops and yields. According to the Northeast and Northern Forests Regional Climate Hub Assessment of Climate Change Vulnerability and Adaptation and Mitigation Strategies, extended warm periods in late winter or early spring can cause premature blooming, followed by an extreme frost can cost growers millions. The report suggests that by the end of the century average temperatures may increase by as much as 8.5 degrees Fahrenheit. Changes like warmer winters will lengthen the growing season and will change the scope of production.

The study also mentions that rising winter temperatures will threaten the viability of winter crops, such as winter wheat and other cover crops. This may affect your farm by shifting planting dates of grains and other field crops.

Warmer winters will also affect livestock’s susceptibility to illness, especially an increases in pathogens and parasites. Wetter and muddier conditions in early spring may encourage the spread of mastitis and foster respiratory conditions among dairy cattle.

Have you seen a difference on your farm in recent years due to a changing climate and warmer winters? How has climate and a change in temperatures affected the way you farm? Learn more by staying posted with NFU’s blog and checking out USDA’s Climate Hubs.

Like what you’ve read? Check out our Climate Leaders home page, join the conversation in the NFU Climate Leaders Facebook Group, and keep up-to-date with NFU climate action by signing up for the mailing list.


  • You might want to look into how climate zones have shifted. I think my local area is documented to have a climate similar to that climate that existed 100 miles south 25 years ago. Look into averages of “frost free days”, migratory patterns of birds and the movement of certain animals northward as the warmer climate zones have moved north. This research will help you explain “warmer winters” to people.

  • Corn from North Dakota has been used to supplement supplies in eastern cornbelt ethanol plants this year due to the presence of vomitoxin. Both are results of extreme climate variation beyond the norm. Vomitoxin is a result of very wet conditions when the fungus grows on reproducing corn or wheat. In ND, growing seasons have lengthened and warmed enabling corn to replace small grains as a crop of choice. The cornbelt is shifting north as southern plant diseases follow along behind.

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